Britain: Monarchy – not just a ’harmless relic’

The government in Britain will be hoping that the Jubilee flotilla of 1,000 ships on the river Thames will serve as a useful distraction while it pushes through more swingeing cuts.

The Diamond Jubilee is more than just a diversion. Behind the pomp and circumstance, the existence of the monarchy poses a potential threat to the fight against austerity and more.

Across the country Jubilee fever is said to be ’rising’. But last year a Guardian/ICM poll found that 49% of people were more excited about an extra day off than seeing Will and Kate get hitched. And when looked at closely, ’Jubilee fever’ isn’t as hot as the government and Queen would like.

In 1977, for the Silver Jubilee, over 100,000 street parties were held. So far in London there are only around 1,800 street closures planned. Barking and Dagenham, a borough with one of the highest unemployment and poverty rates in London, has the lowest number with only five parties arranged. Working class people have nothing in common with the lifestyles of the royal family; the Queen alone has ’personal wealth’ estimated at £1.15 billion.

When the Queen came to power in 1952, she was the ’head of the Commonwealth’ and clinging to the remnants of the British Empire. Now Jamaica, celebrating its 50th year of independence this year, is considering severing all ties with the British monarchy and replacing the Queen as head of state with a Jamaican president instead.

The majority of people view the Queen as a harmless tourist attraction. The Royal Family are often treated as characters in a soap opera or like any other celebrity by the press. They have been mired in scandal over recent years with various family members and staff giving away secrets to undercover reporters, one royal dressing up as a Nazi and the Queen’s own husband making a seemingly constant stream of bigoted racist public comments.

There have been attempts to ’modernise’ the monarchy in the hope of reviving support for it. These include boasting the progressiveness of Kate Middleton – a commoner! – marrying Prince William. Kate’s parents own a business which is estimated to be worth £30 million and she was sent to private schools, so hers is not the most ’common’ background.

An Ipsos Mori poll in 2011 showed that 44% of people think that the royal family is “out-of-touch with ordinary people”. And a recent Guardian/ICM poll showed that young people are more likely to think that Britain would be better off without a monarchy. But the Queen is far from merely being a tourist attraction or a celebrity.

One rule for them…

When some public sector trade unions called one day of strike action in June 2011 Tory MPs denounced them as threatening economic recovery. More recently the governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, warned that the June Jubilee bank holiday could hit Britain’s ailing economy, with estimates that GDP could be hit by 0.5%. Nonetheless David Cameron calls for “the mother of all parties”. Why this seeming contradiction?

Generally the monarchy’s role is in reinforcing feelings of deference towards our ruling class ’betters’. But there is a more serious side. She is a completely unelected head of state, so is only in that position by birth. She is supposed to be ’politically neutral’ because she is a ’constitutional monarch’ and we have a Prime Minister who has effective political power.

However, all legislative bills need to be granted with a ’royal assent’ before they can become law so need to be approved by the Queen. This means she has the power to veto any decision made by an elected government.

The Queen does not disagree with the laws that are being passed by the Con-Dems or previous cuts-making Labour governments because they support and maintain capitalist society. But, if a government was trying to pass laws that were a threat to this order, the Queen could refuse to agree.

So the monarchy is not ’above’ politics but in fact, holds significant political power. The Queen is head of the armed forces and police. MPs, senior government officers and judges swear allegiance to the Crown, not to parliament.

These powers could potentially be used to attempt to mobilise the armed forces against future mass movements and strikes. A foretaste of this was seen when ’emergency powers’ were invoked by the Queen in 2000 during the lorry drivers’ fuel protests.

Over the coming years, there will be an increase in the number of protests and strikes as the government tries to force through its austerity measures and the working class fights back. It is possible that ’emergency powers’ of the monarch could be used to help the capitalist class repress this.

There by appointments

The monarch formally appoints the prime minister and can do this even when no political party wins a majority in an election, as with the present Tory prime minister. In 1931 when Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald resigned as prime minister, King George V appointed him as head of the ’national government’ in coalition with the Tories and Liberals to push through attacks on the working class.

Similarly, the monarch also has the power to dissolve parliament. In 1975, the Queen’s representative in Australia, Governor-General Kerr, dismissed Labour’s Gough Whitlam as prime minister and appointed Malcolm Fraser, the right wing leader of the Liberal Party, as caretaker prime minister.

All this shows that the ruling class can at times turn to the ’reserve’ powers of the monarchy to take action against the working class and socialist movements. They may not use them often but might not hesitate to do so at a time of crisis for them.
However, they need a social base of support for the Queen to allow these powers to remain in place, which is why she is portrayed as harmless, beneficial and someone who deserves respect.

Capitalism is currently in its worst crisis in 80 years. In order to save their system, big business and their representatives in government are hammering the working class and are attempting to force back the gains we have won such as the NHS.

With the Diamond Jubilee celebrations this year, the government is attempting to rally support for the royal family – the embodiment of class and privilege – to help to defend their profit driven system which is run for the benefit of the 1%.

The monarchy and the House of Lords are relics of feudalism and should be abolished. Their existence is undemocratic and they are used to justify the growing class divisions in society. Under a socialist society, there would be no place for these parasitical, ancient symbols of privilege.

Royal accounting:

£1.15 billion estimate of the Queen’s ’personal wealth’
£52,000 cost every time the Royal Train is used
The Queen is the biggest landowner on the planet

She owns:
£10 billion art collection
£100 million stamp collection
£7 million cars

How much money do they get?

The Crown Estate property portfolio includes a big slice of a very rich pie – property in the West End of London, Ascot racecourse, a 12-nautical mile perimeter around all of Britain’s coastline and much more.
For the past 250 years all Crown Estate profits have been paid to the Treasury which then pays the royal family an annual grant, currently £30 million. That’s on top of the £150 million cost of security. Under a new formula starting next year, the monarch is estimated to get around £37.5 million, a big increase in royal funding in a time of austerity for most of us.